Airtel says its Open RAN 5G strategy is on schedule

airtel Open RAN 5G
Image by sn040288 | Bigstockphoto

Bharti Airtel says that it is on track with its Open RAN strategy – contracts have been finalized with various gear vendors, and the technology will be deployed in its live 5G network by the end of fiscal-year 2023.

Randeep Sekhon, chief technology officer at Bharti Airtel said that Open RAN is still maturing and cost reduction will take time but the telecom operator remains committed to the technology.

“Open RAN’s readiness to serve a larger scale will happen towards the end of 2023 because we want the total cost of ownership to come down,” Sekhon was quoted as saying by the Economic Times.

Airtel has commercially rolled out 5G services in eight cities. It plans to cover the top 50-60 cities in India by March 2023, and cover the entire country a year later.

Airtel trialing Open RAN in Punjab

Sekhon said Airtel is currently trialing live Open RAN sites in Punjab.

“We were pleasantly surprised with the results. It was pretty good. And, now we have other versions live in our own labs in Manesar,” he said. “By next year second half, you should see volumes start picking up on Open RAN.”

The report added that Airtel was working with partners including Mavenir, Xilinx, Altiostar, NEC and Sercom to build a complete Open RAN-based 5G stack. (Airtel previously developed its own 4G small cells in collaboration with Altiostar and Sercom.)

“We don’t own that [5G] stack – rather, we are playing the role of a matchmaker. Open RAN gives you the opportunity to mix the best technologies from different partners,” Sekhon said. He added that system integration cost problems have been solved, and Airtel has a plan to solve a few more wrinkles involved with deploying the technology at scale.

Smartphone problems

Airtel, India’s second largest telecom service provider, has awarded 5G network contracts to Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung worth $2.5 billion Nokia and Samsung account for 90% of that figure, with Samsung taking the rest.

Bharti Airtel is using non-standalone architecture (NSA) 5G technology, ostensibly in a strategic bid to sign on users more quickly due to a wider availability of supportive 5G devices.

However, 5G smartphones from Apple and Samsung didn’t work with Indian 5G networks when the services launched because the companies hadn’t yet released the necessary software upgrades.

Reliance Jio has adopted the standalone architecture (SA) for its 5G network, and is marketing the service as “True 5G”.

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